Synod. The Battle of Germany
The German bishops are fighting to open the way for divorce and homosexuality. But six of them have broken ranks. And in a book one jurist thoroughly criticizes Cardinal Kasper’s ideas. “It is a crisis of faith,” comments African cardinal Sarah
by Sandro Magister
ROME, May 29, 2015 – In perfect temporal conjunction four days ago, right when the council and general secretariat of the synod of bishops were at the Vatican with Pope Francis preparing the next session of the assembly, on the same day and not far away, at the Pontifical Gregorian University, the presidents of the episcopal conferences of Germany, France, and Switzerland and about fifty bishops, theologians, and experts from these three countries, led by Cardinals Walter Kasper and Reinhard Marx, were discussing behind closed doors how to steer through the synod their reformist ideas on the two most controversial points: divorce and homosexuality.
Germany, France, and Switzerland overlook the Rhine River. But the participants at the Gregorian know very well that the game is being played on the shores of the Tiber, in Rome. Their ambition is to be once again, as at Vatican Council II, the winning side in the renewal of the universal Church, the Rhine that with its waters invades the Tiber.
At the end of the meeting, the Germans released a statement in which they say that they “reflected in particular on sexuality as a language of love and a precious gift from God, in intense dialogue between traditional moral theology and the best contributions of contemporary anthropology and the human sciences.”
But more than the statement, what is interesting is what the participants really said among themselves, according to the authorized account in the May 26 issue of “la Repubblica,” the only newspaper admitted to the meeting and on top of that the only newspaper that Pope Francis says he reads:
“A priest and professor speaks without hesitation of ‘caresses, kisses, coitus in the sense of coming together, co-ire,’ as also of ‘that which accompanies the unconscious lights and shadows of the impulses and desire.’ One of his colleagues: ‘The importance of the sexual stimulus represents the foundation for a lasting relationship.’ Freud is quoted. There are references to Fromm. ‘The lack of sexuality,’ it is added, ‘can be associated with hunger and thirst. The question that characterizes it is: Do you want to have sex? But this does not mean desiring the other, if the other does not want it. The question should be: Do you want me? This is how sexual desire for the other can be united with love.’”
The episcopate of Germany is the most advanced and combative point of this reformist front.
Its last official pronouncement – released in multiple languages in early May – was the response to the questionnaire sent out from Rome in view of the next session of the synod.
From which it can be gathered that in Germany they are already putting widely into practice that which the magisterium of the Church forbids and the synod has yet to discuss. And this means communion for the divorced and remarried, the admission of second marriages, the approval of homosexual unions:
A few days later, on May 9, the Zentralkomitee der Deutschen Katholiken, the historical association of the German Catholic laity, issued an even more advanced statement, demanding liturgical blessings for second marriages between the divorced and for unions between persons of the same sex, in addition to the wholesale abandonment of Church teaching on contraception:
But take care. This does not mean that the whole German Church agrees on these positions. Anything but. Both among the bishops and among the most authoritative laymen there is no lack of opposing voices. And in recent days they have made themselves heard loud and clear.
The bishop of Passau, Stefan Oster, a Salesian appointed by Pope Francis in April 2014, has contested the statement of the Zentralkomitee der Deutschen Katholiken point by point in a biting interview on his Facebook page:
And he promptly received the public endorsement of five other bishops: Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, Konrad Zdarsa of Augsburg, Gregor M. Hanke of Eichstätt, Wolfgang Ipolt of Görlitz, Friedhelm Hofmann of Würzburg:
It is interesting to note that among these five bishops is that of Würzburg, the city in which the Zentralkomitee der Deutschen Katholiken met and issued its statement with the silence/absence of the committee’s spiritual guide, Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, the diocese that in the 1990’s had Kasper as its titular.
And it is even more interesting to highlight that the bishops cited, with the exception of that of Görlitz, all belong to the ecclesiastical region of Bavaria, with the result of putting Cardinal Marx, archbishop of Munich, in the minority in his own region and on the very questions on which he has most exerted himself.
But there is more. Among the laity of Germany also there are powerful figures who are speaking outside the party line.
There was a stir in early May over the severity with with Robert Spaemann, considered one of the greatest living Catholic philosophers, a longtime friend of Joseph Ratzinger, criticized not only the German episcopate but nothing less than the governance of Pope Francis, as “autocratic” and “chaotic” at the same time.
Spaemann presented his criticisms in a conversation with Hans Joas for “Herder Korrespondenz,” the magazine of the publisher of the opera omnia of Benedict XVI:
In recent days, moreover, a book been published simultaneously in Germany and Italy by a German jurist and magistrate that is a radical refutation, in theory and practice, of the ideas of Cardinal Kasper on communion for the divorced and remarried:
The author, Rainer Beckmann, 54, is a judge in Würzburg. From 2000 to 2005 he was an official expert for the commissions on medical law and ethics of the German federal parliament. He has published scientific articles on abortion, reproductive technologies, brain death, and euthanasia. He is vice-president of an association of jurists for the right to life, and directs the magazine “Zeitschrift für Lebensrecht.” He teaches at the University of Heidelberg.
But as German cardinal Cordes writes in the preface to the book, Beckmann, the father of four children, is also “a believer who has experienced in person the pain of a failed relationship, and nonetheless after divorce has not undertaken another relationship: he wants to keep faith with his promise of fidelity… until death do them part.” And precisely for this reason “his is a compelling testimony on the pastoral level, realistic on the factual level and in keeping with the Sacred Scriptures.”
At the conclusion of the book, Beckmann emphasizes that Pope Francis, “in the statements that are known to us,” has never once deviated from the traditional doctrine of the Church. While on the contrary “the solution proposed by Cardinal Kasper undermines at the foundations not only the sacrament of Marriage, but also those of Penance and the Eucharist.”
And he concludes:
“If we want to transmit the faith, our actions must correspond to our words. He who does not live what he teaches is not credible. Nor is he credible who does not keep what he has promised. He who promises love until death must remain faithful until death. This is the path on which Jesus went before us.”
They are ideas of a radicality not unlike that expressed in recent days by a highly authoritative representative of the young African Church: Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 as prefect of the congregation for divine worship.
In presenting on May 22 a series of preparatory books for the synod, edited by the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family and published in Italy by Cantagalli, Sarah too insisted on the credibility of testimony:
“It is only with clarity that one can be a witness, in a world that no longer tolerates the Gospel. Faith is the true nucleus of the Church’s difficulties.”
“If the Eucharist is only a meal, we can also give communion to divorced persons who contradict the covenant. But if a bishop, a cardinal does not see what the Eucharist is, meaning the body of Christ, and takes this Eucharist as a meal from which no one must be excluded, we truly lose the heart of the mystery.”
A more thorough account of the words spoken by Sarah on May 22:
> Il cardinale Sarah: “La fede o niente”
And a portrait of this figure, with excerpts from his book “Dieu ou rien,” soon to be published in Italian, English, and Spanish:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.